Cyanogen, Inc. has been adding staff to its small but growing roster at a steady pace ever since the company had its big coming out party. And like its initial team, a lot of them have come from the Android modding and ROM community. Cyanogen's latest hire might be familiar to some of you: François Simond, better known online as "Supercurio." Mr. Simond was kind enough to let us break the news, and also pick his brain on topics like CyanogenMod, audio and video calibration, and mobile computing in general.
Mr. Simond has been somewhat quiet on the mobile front for the last 18 months or so, though he's stayed active on the XDA forums, where he's a resident expert on intense audio and video quality and measurement. He's particularly well-known for his Project Voodoo apps on the Play Store, which focus on louder and better sound for various Samsung devices, among many other things. François founded his own Linux-based services and web hosting company at age 20, getting his feet wet in the areas of systems administration and web development. He's also worked as a professional photographer and general computer consultant.
Android Police: What got you interested in Android in the first place?
François Simond: I bought a iPhone 3Gs. I loved it, I started to develop for it, learning a lot about what was possible and what was not. At that time I wanted to develop a network audio player that played your music collection from home, on 3G or on Wi-Fi, with the best quality bitrates and encodings. That's something that sill hasn't been done − especially for Lossless. I was facing too many limitations and used to Linux and open source software philosophy, so I sold it and bought a Galaxy S, a first-generation I9000, instead.
The Galaxy S had a terrible lag issue, and there was a bounty on XDA to try to fix it. I thought, "Oh, I can probably do that, people are enthusiasts and interested, that seems cool. It will just take me a few days. Eventually it took me much longer, I got the bounty and it became the reference "lagfix" for the Galaxy S, later ported on every variant. I was blown away by how cool that was, and the support and enthusiasts on XDA. Working for other business could be so disconnected. The user side contributes a lot. Users inspire, guide in the right direction, encourage, and sometimes they vote with their dollars too.
After the lagfix I made Voodoo Sound, which was the first driver and app to focus on audio quality, a development driven by audio measurements. I got in touch with Wolfson Microelectronics, who made the chip I was tuning. They've always been helpful, seeing their own interest despite the fact that what I was doing was totally hacking, bypassing Samsung, so that was risky for them in terms of politics. I even went to visit them at their HQ for one week where I met everyone from software and chip engineers, marketing, and the CTO to talk about what was possible to do better with smartphone audio. I'm so happy with all the feedback I had with them, absolutely everything is in their latest audio chips,
AP: Very cool.
FS: There are also some things regular users don't know about because they're not on popular domains yet, like what I've been working on the past two years.
AP: Ah yes, I was going to ask about that.
FS: So for the past two years I've been doing mostly research and development, not releasing much. And I was actually surprised Cyanogen thought of hiring me because of that. But Steve [Kondik] understood how to use me as an asset so that my skills can make a competitive difference. There's everything to do about Android and display calibration, color management. Right now nothing at all exists, despite incredible capabilities and opportunities.
For several years I intended to bring Android up to speed with color management industry standards. So I learned how to do that and started writing software. There's a very limited preview for the Nexus 7, allowing it to load calibration profiles. I made a lot of progress, but it's not released yet. Right now I'm also connecting with people in the color industry. Many recognize nothing exists yet on mobile.
AP: So ideally you'd like a photographer or graphic designer to be able to use an Android phone or tablet as an accurate color monitor.
FS: Absolutely. With mobile platforms, you could do everything you can on desktop already, which is required for content creation. Actually, chips currently in our phones have real time image processing capabilities surpassing by far what's on the desktop. Nobody knows about that, but it's already possible to calibrate tablets or smartphone displays to industry standards with very high precision. It's also possible to tune the rendering to the user's preference, as everyone has a different sensitivity to color.
AP: I had no idea. I assume these tools aren't available to anyone but OEMs and device manufacturers. Samsung has some extremely basic settings, just three monitor-style presets, and I've seen similar things on other devices. Nothing like as complex as what you're describing.
FS: Yes Samsung has an interesting technology with OLED, capable of rendering more colors than typical IPS displays (aside from latest Sony Z2 panel). However due to the lack of color management and real calibration effort, it mostly distorts existing content with unrealistic rendering. The eye is capable of perceiving many more colors than the standard sRGB gamut displays (the same is true for Rec.709 HDTV standard). That's why people enjoy more colors, like the ones on AMOLED panels. Unfortunately Samsung is overdoing it.
AP: So, tying into that, and accounting for the current lack of user-facing controls, which manufacturers do you think have the best overall screens and color accuracy at the moment?
FS: Apple has his own interpretation of colors standards, overall they get consistent results. Several Chinese manufacturers show nice effort calibrating their displays too. Google calibrates their displays too, but their interpretation of the sRGB standard is wrong in my opinion, and it leads to washed-out colors. One problem is that the current standard, sRGB, is weakly defined and was only really adequate for CRT displays. We need to define new color rendering standards for today's technologies, especially for mobile where viewing conditions vary a lot.
I'm disappointed with HTC's latest moves. They have access to great panels, but like LG, they're using color processing to boost colors (especially greens) like some do on TVs. So all greens appear super-saturated, which should be the content creator's role, if he wants to adjust grass colors.
Sony stepped up this year by using new technology (quantum dots) to enlarge their display gamut − the range of colors you can reproduce, solving viewing angle issues. They are also trying to calibrate the response curve to gamma 2.2, even allowing users to change the color of the white point. These are good initiatives, but at the same time sort of pointless until Android supports color management. Some content will look flattering because you have more intense colors than intended. Some other content will look wrong.
AP: I assume that Steve Kondik is interested in expanding CyanogenMod in that capacity.
FS: Steve hired the right guy to push Cyanogen first and hopefully Android entirely in the right direction, so people won't have to buy Apple products to have somewhat consistent colors. I hope I can make a difference thanks to CyanogenMod acting as an enabler. I'm grateful to Steve for recognizing there's something to do here, giving me the opportunity to at least try to make progress. Of course Cyanogen, Inc. has to focus on shipping products, so I won't be around only acting as an evangelist, but that's the exciting part. It forces us to be realistic. I'm so new at Cyanogen, Inc. and worked alone for a long time, so I can't speculate on Cyanogen's plans.
The Oppo N1 CyanogenMod Edition is the first retail phone to ship with CyanogenMod installed.
AP: Along the same lines, who do you think has the best mobile sound experience at the moment?
FS: Apple manages to release products with consistent audio quality for the headphone output especially. On speakers, HTC is doing an amazing job. But I'm just stating the obvious. Qualcomm's offerings have been progressing vastly in audio quality, but the actual software and hardware implementation on any chip can make any phone sound great or bad. One manufacturer can release a phone with great audio quality, and the next year something really disappointing, because they changed the audio codec supplier or changed the software side.
Currently everyone is using limited audio testing and evaluation methodologies, limiting themselves only to SNR and total harmonic distortion. It's only a very narrow window of what represents audio quality as perceived by listeners, so mistakes are being made.
AP: I'm sure a lot of our readers would love to work for the Cyanogen team. Do you have any pointers or tips now that you've gone through the hiring process?
FS: It's funny, because I totally failed at their first interview, that happen before they became public. That was a regular engineering interview process. But I kept in touch with Steve and later he needed an engineer specializing in audio and display. I almost worked for Canonical after meeting the founder [Mark Shuttleworth] during MWC. But Steve's offer and the opportunities in terms of reaching users soon were better. Everything I've seen since I arrived impresses me.
If you want to work at Cyanogen, I would say show that you have something to contribute that people care about. Don't be too shy and release, even if it's different than the usual stuff. Cyanogen is not a clan, they're pragmatic and open, they don't hire dire-hard fans or people having a special allegiance, but instead based to their background and experience as hackers. They're able to recognize what matters to reach their objectives, which sounds like a good strategy to me.
I think one difficulty there is that as you can see in forums, there are many people doing a few things here and there, and bashing manufacturers as much as they can. Arguing they did so much better than them, building an audience on hate instead of creativity. I would guess that if you want to work to Cyanogen, you might avoid doing that, heh.
AP: Thanks so much for your time, François.
François Simond currently lives in France, but intends to move to Seattle to work at the primary Cyanogen, Inc. office (and to be with his fiancée) in a matter of months. You can follow him on Google+.